The Brontës and Religion

By Marianne Thormählen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
The Brontës in the theological landscape
of their time

The preceding section looked at the religious development of the Brontës in the context of those denominational differences and dissensions that prevailed in the Britain of their youth and brief maturity. They were obviously well acquainted with the questions involved, and the topography of the respective camps was familiar to them. In view of Charlotte Brontë's ardent and idealistic personality, it would have been natural to expect her to take up arms under the banner of the combatant with the greatest claim on her loyalties; but her dedication to truth made adherence to a party impossible and caused her to move freely on territories far away from the heartland of Anglican orthodoxy. Toughminded, intelligent Anne's temperament was of a quieter cast, but her explorations of vexed religious issues were every bit as daring as her sister's. Emily's robust unconcern with dogma may seem to represent an extreme position even in this spiritually libertarian family; but her sisters will have found Lockwood's characteristically pusillanimous refusal to engage with Nelly Dean's 'something heterodox' question about the degree of happiness enjoyed by the likes of Catherine Earnshaw Linton in 'the other world' as ridiculous as she (ii.ii.165). The Brontës resembled some of the leading religious thinkers of their time, notably Thomas Erskine and F. D. Maurice, in regarding religion as the concern of the individual soul guided by God. Church controversy may have, by turns, distressed, irritated and amused them; but it did not interfere with their own fundamental convictions.

At this point, the discussion of the Brontës and religion leaves the specifically denominational aspect aside and concentrates on those matters of faith that play central roles in their fiction. It addresses two main topics: the nature of God and his relationship with his creation, and the question of the life everlasting. Ethical concerns are addressed in the ensuing section, which begins with an analysis of revenge and forgiveness between human beings and goes on to deal with the question

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The Brontës and Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations and Editions ix
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Denominations *
  • Chapter 1 - A Christian Home in Early Nineteenth-Century England: Evangelicalism, Dissent and the Brontë Family 13
  • Chapter 2 - Charlotte Brontë and the Church of Rome 24
  • Chapter 3 - An Undenominational Temper 39
  • II - Doctrines *
  • Chapter 4 - The Brontës in the Theological Landscape of Their Time 47
  • Chapter 5 - God and His Creation 53
  • Chapter 6 - Faith and Redemption 71
  • Chapter 7 - This Life and the Next 90
  • III - Ethics *
  • Chapter 8 - Forgiveness and Revenge 119
  • Chapter 9 - The Christian Life 144
  • IV - Clerics *
  • Chapter 10 - Clergymen in the Brontë Novels 173
  • Chapter 11 - The Enigma of St John Rivers 204
  • Notes 221
  • Select Bibliography 271
  • Index 278
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